New York City’s Top Corruption Watchdog Leaving for Federal Role

Margaret Garnett, the commissioner of the New York City agency that roots out corruption in local government, will leave her post and become the No. 2 official in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, that office said on Wednesday.

Ms. Garnett, who earlier spent 12 years as a Southern District prosecutor, has been the city’s investigation commissioner since late 2018, when she was nominated for the post by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Last week, in perhaps her final report as commissioner, her office, the Department of Investigation, criticized Mr. de Blasio’s use of his security detail for political and personal reasons, including for trips taken during his presidential campaign — findings the mayor sharply criticized.

At her confirmation hearing for the city position, Ms. Garnett told council members that she would “hang up” if someone called her and tried to pressure her to stop a city investigation.

Ms. Garnett’s new appointment was announced by Damian Williams, who on Sunday was sworn in as the new U. S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Mr. Williams also named Daniel M. Gitner, a longtime white-collar defense lawyer, to lead the district’s criminal division, which includes about 175 assistant U.S. attorneys.

The Southern District has long been known for its handling of complex federal prosecutions of fraud and corruption.

The office is preparing next month to try Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime companion to Jeffrey Epstein, on sex-trafficking and other charges. Ms. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty. The office is also investigating Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and onetime Southern District U.S. attorney, over his dealings in Ukraine before the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing.

In a pending terrorism prosecution, the Southern District has said it will seek the death penalty if it obtains the conviction of Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek man charged in a 2017 truck attack that killed eight people on a crowded Manhattan bike path — the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Saipov carried out the attack for the purpose of joining the Islamic State, a federal indictment has charged; he has pleaded not guilty.

In announcing the appointments, Mr. Williams said Ms. Garnett’s “storied career in public service leaves no doubt that she will be an exceptional deputy U.S. attorney,” and he said Mr. Gitner had been “one of the best trial lawyers in America since he left” his earlier job as a Southern District prosecutor in 2005.

Mr. Gitner, who led the Southern District’s general crimes unit for a time, has been a partner since 2005 at the law firm Lankler Siffert & Wohl. Ms. Garnett’s career includes working as a senior official in the state attorney general’s office. In an email to her staff on Wednesday, she said she would resign on Nov. 10, and that Daniel Cort, the agency’s first deputy commissioner, would take over as acting commissioner.

She said she felt “extraordinarily lucky to have had this opportunity to serve the people of New York City alongside you all for the last three years.”

“You have inspired me every day with your commitment to truth telling, to holding people accountable regardless of power or position, and to giving New Yorkers the honest government they deserve,” she wrote.

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